can indeed increase athletes' speed, according to a pair of recent studies giving confirmation to a belief that scientists have long been skeptical of.
For years, professional athletes have sworn by "soda doping," the practice of taking baking soda before competitive sporting event in order to improve speed and endurance.
In the first study, researchers from Loughborough University gave baking soda to nine swimmers, finding that eight of them reduced their time in a 200 meter race by an average of 1.5 seconds.
"At the last Olympics, the top four swimmers in the men's 200 meter freestyle were separated by just 1.4 seconds," lead researcher Jonathan Folland said. "So, in theory, it could be the difference between winning a medal and not."
In the second study, researchers from the American College Sports Medicine gave either a capsule of baking soda or a placebo pill to a number of runners in an 800 meter dash. A number of those taking baking soda suffered from indigestion
, a well-known side effect.
"If you took out the participants who experienced negative side-effects ... you'd see an average improvement in running times of about 2.2 seconds," said lead researcher Ronald Deitrick. "For a relatively short running distance, that's very significant."Swallowing baking soda can also cause diarrhea.
Researchers believe that baking soda increases athletes' speeds due to its well-known alkaline nature - the same nature that makes it function well as a cleaning product or antacid. Baking soda, scientists believe, prevents the buildup of the waste products of anaerobic exercise
, such as lactic acid, that can lead to soreness or fatigue.
The new findings raise the question of whether baking soda
should be added to the list of banned substances in sporting competitions.
"It comes down to whether or not the athlete has a competitive advantage by taking an aid," Deitrick said. "And in the case of sodium bicarbonate, I believe the answer is yes. It violates the spirit of fair play by artificially enhancing performance."
Sources for this story include: http://www.dailymail.co.uk